More than 100 of Israel’s best and brightest young entrepreneurs gathered at the Tel Aviv Port over the weekend for a 36-hour hackathon to develop new and innovative applications.
HackTrack TLV, held in Wix’s offices in the port, brought together aspiring young entrepreneurs with leaders and investors in the hi-tech industry for a nonstop idea and development marathon.
“It’s really exciting to see youth who want to integrate into the hi-tech industry,” Mickey Haslavsky told The Jerusalem Post on Friday.
Haslavsky, who celebrated his 22nd birthday over the weekend, serves as a co-founder and CMO of Rapid API, a successful start-up launched together with whiz kid Iddo Gino and Daniel Chernenkov.
“The CEO of our company is only 18 years old, our CTO just turned 21 and I am the CMO and just turned 22,” he said. “We’ve participated in hackathons and it is a great way to get into the hi-tech industry.”
As one of the sponsors of the event, together with well-established companies like Wix and Fiverr, Rapid API helped the young entrepreneurs by offering an easy-to-use tool to help facilitate their app development.
“Think of it as what Wix does for front-end, we do for back-end,” he explained. “Our product helps developers get to market faster since they can use our drag-and-drop method for back-end to do anything from store data to make payments without having to write the code themselves.”
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Despite his status as a successful entrepreneur, Haslavsky seemed to be on friendly terms with most of the young participants, walking around the room, greeting them and pointing out that many already have successful start-ups of their own.
“Everyone is coming together to develop new products, it is a great way for youth to get into hi-tech and meet with angel investors, journalists, successful startups and other developers,” he said.
For HackTrack TLV, the youth split up into teams of up to four participants to formulate and develop their ideas, vying for a first place prize of NIS 5,000 and office space for one month at Merkspace, which offers co-working spaces in Tel Aviv.
“We are all here for 36 hours to develop in the most intensive and fun atmosphere that we can,” 20-year-old Michael Matias, one of the participants, told the Post.
Matias, who is currently serving in the IDF, is no stranger to hackathons or to the hi-tech world.
“When I was 17, I tried to join a hackathon but was told that I couldn’t because I wasn’t 18,” he said. “So, instead of waiting, I decided I would organize one myself.”
The results were overwhelming, he recalled, as he said he received over 1,200 young applicants who wanted to participate in his first hackathon, held in Silicon Valley.
In 2014, following this success and realizing the need among young entrepreneurs, Matias founded HackGenY, which organizes hackathons for youth all over the world. He recalled how he was talking to potential investors for his start-up idea while still in high school.
“I was talking to an investor with headphones in my ear and I didn’t want him to know that I was in gym class so that he would invest in our start-up,” he laughed.
To date, his company has held youth hackathons in 11 countries including Israel, Jamaica, India, the UK, the US and is currently in the process of organizing two others in New York and Singapore.
“You’d be surprised, but Israel is at the highest level, with many Israeli youth winning hackathons around the world,” he said. “The participants [at this hackathon] are the most talented youth in Israel and it’s going to be really fun to develop here.”
At the hackathon in Tel Aviv, Matias said he had an idea to develop an application that links teens going through similar problems so they can text each other and share their thoughts, feelings, or simply chat.
“How is Generation Y different from previous generations?” he asked. “We communicate via texting. So if a teenager is upset because his girlfriend broke up with him or because he failed a test, he isn’t going to want to talk to his parents or his friends face to face, he’ll most likely want to text someone about it,” he explained.
“Our idea is that we create an application where a guy who just got dumped and is upset by it can go online and talk to other guys who just broke up with their girlfriends and who are going through the same thing and text each other about the experience,” he said.
While Matias was getting settled in setting up his work station, standing across the room was the youngest participant in the hackathon, nine-year-old Nitai Abadi, who had an idea for an application but no partners with whom to develop it.
“My classmates make fun of me and laugh at me and make me feel like I’m invisible,” he told the Post. “So I want to create an application called ‘Sicha ben koshi lekoshi’ (A chat between difficulty to difficulty).”
Abadi’s idea, similarly to Matias’s, was to create an application that can link youth who are going through a hard time to other youth who are going through similar problems to “help cheer them up.”
“And, if there are no youth to help, they can communicate with the computer program to help cheer them up,” he explained.
Upon hearing of the similar ideas, Haslavsky introduced Abadi to Matias, who happily added him to the team.
“I went through something similar when I was in fifth grade,” Matias told Abadi. “I was also boycotted and it was a really hard time for me, but I made it through and here I am now,” he told the young boy.
“This is the beauty of hackathons,” Matias said, “joining together to develop our ideas in a fun and exciting atmosphere.”
In addition to developing their ideas, the participants were privy to meeting investors and mentors across a number of fields.
Naamah Zalcman was at the hackathon to help the young entrepreneurs work on pitches to promote and sell their ideas following the event.
At only 17, Zalcman, one of the few females at the event, has held positions at McCann Erickson, i24 news and Channel 1, where she delivers a segment on technology.
“It’s important to go to school, but it is also important to engage in other things,” she told the Post.
“You can learn a lot through doing rather than just sitting in school. I am still getting my matriculation certificate, but I am doing so much more beyond that. I am young and I have a lot of energy now, and so now is my time to do what interests me.”
This attitude seemed prevalent among the participants, as most of these youth were, in addition to their studies, focused on developing their ideas to become the next successful start-up.
“We are all good friends here, it is a small niche and we are all having a lot of fun doing what we do,” she said. •
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